How Can You Tell if Someone Is Lying?

crossfingersRecently, a psychologist decided to put an end to the misinformation around lying with some research, and the results both reinforced and undercut our common sense, traditional take on this important bit of human behavior.

First of all, as I have been noting in this blog for some time, you have to let go of the idea of “tells” – those specific gestures that give away liars.  They’re not reliable.  Presumably this is bad news for poker players, too.

Second, what you should look for is a group of signals that, taken together, are a pretty good clue that the person in question is lying (unless, of course, they’ve read the article too and have taken steps accordingly).  Those signals are:  hand touching, touching the face, crossing arms, and leaning away.

Again, look for all of these, not individual tells.  It takes a village of signs.

Here’s the really important point of this research.  The more of these cues that show up in the people we talk to, the more we are inclined to think that they are untrustworthy – unconsciously.  We might still like the person – but we don’t trust them.  We think they’re lying.

Because most of this sort of evaluation of our fellow human beings occurs unconsciously, we have a hard time making it part of conscious thought.  The conscious mind can only handle something like 40 bits of information a second, whereas the unconscious mind handles 11 million bits.  So we’ve evolved to push a lot of important work down to our unconscious minds, including evaluating trust.

It’s hard work to start looking for these signs with your conscious mind, or to monitor yourself for them when you want to increase trust.  But, with practice, you can increase your facility in both reading and projecting trust or its opposite consciously.

Use your powers for good.

 

Comments

  1. says

    I’ve always felt that most tells were over-rated. One problem with tells is that a tell may actually exist, but you will not actually know what the tell means until you’ve had a chance to witness both the tell and the result on multiple occasions. Your point about sets of behaviors/actions being more reliable is spot on. And just in case anyone here is a poker player. Joe Navarro’s ‘Read Em and Reap’ is very insightful. Joe was a long time FBI counter intelligence officer who specialized in non-verbal communication. His take on tells is worth checking out.

    • Nick MorganNick Morgan says

      Thanks, Ian, for the thoughtful comment. Joe’s book is a great read for anyone who doesn’t know it.

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